New guidelines require New Jersey prosecutors to retain DNA evidence in sexual assault cases for five years, instead of 90 days. The change has been hailed as a victory for victims who, traumatized by their experience, don’t always go forward immediately with a criminal complaint. It also poses new risks for those accused of sexual offenses, who could face five-year old allegations.
Survivors of rape and other sexual attacks are sometimes unable to decide right away whether they want to file a criminal complaint. This hesitation often weakens any case prosecutors might bring later because, during the delay, valuable forensic evidence can be lost or destroyed. While some New Jersey county prosecutors retain medical evidence for longer than 90 days, they have not been required to do so.
Now, Acting State Attorney General John Hoffman has announced that, when a sexual assault victim is not sure whether to report a crime, county prosecutors must keep the DNA in an evidence kit for five years. For minors, the five-year period does not begin running until the child is 18. After five years, the evidence can be destroyed, but only with the approval of the county prosecutor or the director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.
The guidelines are a victory for rape survivors, giving them more time to recover, heal, and decide whether to proceed. They are potentially a setback, however, for anyone accused of a sex-related crime, whether innocent or guilty. Under the new procedures, DNA evidence could be used five years after an incident, at a time when memories may be hazy and any witnesses may have moved on.
A conviction for a sex crime in NJ carries significant prison time as well as Megan’s Law registration and Community Supervision for Life. For those accused of a sexual offense or worried about a possible future accusation, the new guidelines make it more imperative than ever that they seek effective defense counsel.
If you are facing charges for a sex offense, including inappropriate touching, sexual battery or rape, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney can help you better understand not only the procedural aspects of a sex offense case but also the legal ramifications of a guilty plea versus a not-guilty plea and subsequent trial.
For cases or allegations involving serious sex crimes in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester or Mercer Counties, call the experienced defense lawyers at Sitzler & Sitzler at (609)267-1101. Contact us today for a free consultation.